“Roller derby provides women of all ages and body types with a strong, supportive community of other women who are dedicated to promoting female athleticism,” said Ulonda Sweeney, data systems coordinator in The University of Toledo’s College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and member of the Glass City All-Stars and Glass City Royal Panes.
The sport of roller derby has gained momentum in recent years and has been associated with female empowerment.“Roller derby is an excellent confidence builder as it reinforces the fact that women are athletic, strong, aggressive and feminine all at the same time,” said Sweeney, who has worked at UT for almost 20 years.
Sweeney first attended a roller derby game, called a bout, in February 2014. She was 49 at the time and thought she was too old to play.
Later that year, Sweeney ran into a derby girl named Dirty Die Anna from the Glass City Rollers. “I said I always wanted to do it, but I was too old.”
Dirty Die Anna told her that there was a skater on their team in her 50s and invited Sweeney to an open skate.Sweeney started fresh meat training for the Glass City Rollers in February 2015. Every new derby girl chooses an alias or derby name to go by on the track. Many skaters blend female names with aggressive qualities and some with pop culture references, such as Smashley Simpson and Rosa Sparks from the movie “Whip It.” Sweeney chose GunSmoke as her derby name.
“I got GunSmoke from my Gamma Phi Delta sorority big sister Melody Glover,” Sweeney said. “She chose that name for me because I’m a true cowgirl. So I thought it would be great to keep it as my roller derby name.”
In a roller derby bout, each team can only have five players on the track at once. One is the jammer, who scores points and is distinguished by a star helmet cover, called a star panty. The other four are blockers, who play both offense and defense.
Blockers try to help their jammer get through the pack, which is made up of blockers from each team, while also trying to stop the opposing jammer from getting through. The jammer gets one point for each skater on the other team she passes, after she gets through the pack once.
“I love the fact that as a jammer, you’re the person who gets to score points,” Sweeney said. “And as a blocker, it makes you feel good when you open a hole for your jammer.”
Sweeney plays both jammer and blocker for her team and has been awarded MVP jammer and MVP blocker in past bouts.
“I like the competition of roller derby,” Sweeney said. She added that the sport has helped her to get in better shape and increase her endurance.
“The best thing about roller derby is that young girls can see they don’t have to embrace the stereotypical beliefs about our bodies and ages to be a success,” Sweeney said. “The skills learned from roller derby transfers to a woman’s everyday life. It is empowering, unapologetic and uplifting.”
The Glass City Rollers have an upcoming doubleheader bout Saturday, Oct. 22, starting at 5 p.m. at Skyway Rec Center in Oregon. The Glass City All-Stars will take on Little Steel Lawless Rollers from Youngstown, Ohio, and the Glass City Royal Panes will compete against the Bone City Rollers from Warsaw, Ind.
For more information, visit glasscityrollers.com.